• Ideas

HHS Entrepreneurs

What Is HHS Entrepreneurs?

Pairing Internal Ideas with External Expertise. Established in 2012, HHS Entrepreneurs was the model for the Presidential Innovation Fellows Program. HHS has worked to attract entrepreneurial talent to create a culture that supports intelligent risk-taking and accelerates innovation. This pathway partners federal staff (“Internal Entrepreneurs”) working on high-risk, high-reward projects with external entrepreneurs for a 13-month fellowship.

HHS already has strong assets and leadership to create and develop new products, but HHS Entrepreneurs aims to bring external ideas and talent in areas including open innovation, agile development, and lean methodologies to rapidly create, develop, engage and accelerate innovation and problem solving. Startup organizations have demonstrated that rapid iteration between various versions or features of a product can yield successful results, and HHS would like to promote these methods internally to address high-priority projects.

External entrepreneurs have the unique opportunity to help the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services achieve its mission in new and efficient ways. HHS Entrepreneurs projects have the highest levels of support from leaders at HHS and the White House. Additionally, teams participate in networking, mentorship and “lunch and learn” events with some of the most recognizable people in venture capital, lean startup, business, technology and innovation.



In 2010 the HHS Innovation Council established the HHS Innovation Fellows Program in response to difficulties in finding expertise and unique skill sets necessary to solve some of the critical challenges we face in health, health care, and the delivery of human services. In 2012 that program was renamed as HHS Entrepreneurs and served as the model for the Presidential Innovation Fellows Program.

Types of Projects

The following characteristics define a project that would be a good fit for HHS Entrepreneurs:

  • High priority for the participating HHS Operating / Staff Division with the potential to affect major change within the organization; ability to be implemented in 6-12 months
  • Can uniquely benefit from input from outside entrepreneurial talent, and/or experts in open innovation, agile development or lean startup
  • Strong support from the HHS Operating / Staff Division leadership
  • Participation of outstanding existing HHS Operating / Staff Division employees as Internal Entrepreneurs
  • Committed funding from the HHS Operating / Staff Division to support the External Entrepreneur and ongoing implementation after the External Entrepreneur departs

Internal Entrepreneurs

Each HHS Entrepreneurs project is sponsored by an Internal Entrepreneur. Internal Entrepreneurs are talented HHS employee who wants to change the way government works and test new methodologies to solve problems. Internal Entrepreneurs must be able to dedicate sufficient time to the project and continue project implementation after the departure of the External Entrepreneur. The project must be a well-defined problem of high importance (with a goal of some quantitative or semi-quantitative measures of success/failure).

External Entrepreneurs

The core purpose of the HHS Entrepreneurs program is to bring in outside skills and expertise to help address complex challenges within HHS. External Entrepreneurs are passionate, talented professionals external to the federal government with a demonstrated track record of entrepreneurship and innovation (in areas such as business development, business models, design thinking, evaluating and financing companies, evaluating new ventures, technology product development or marketing). External Entrepreneurs may be academics, policymakers, business gurus, or non-profit leaders who have demonstrated a significant record of achievement in their field.

Generally, External Entrepreneurs will have the following qualifications:

  • Possess an advanced degree or an equivalent combination of education and experience;
  • Have an innovative and entrepreneurial ability and potential – as demonstrated by leading innovative processes and/or solutions – specific entrepreneurial or start-up activity is particularly desirable;
  • Have a minimum of 5 years’ experience designing, developing, and implementing new ventures, including a track record of taking risks to develop new products and/or solutions;
  • Have expertise in open innovation, agile development, and/or lean methodologies, and iterative program design;
  • Have experience in organizational development and executive-level decision making, particularly around change management and/or the introduction of disruptive technologies or practices into an organization;
  • Have strong analytical and research skills and a demonstrated capacity for creative thinking;
  • Have experience in program evaluation methodologies, including quantitative analysis skills; and
  • Have excellent communication and leadership skills.


Selection Process

HHS staff submit proposals which are then reviewed by a panel of the Innovation Council. The projects are rank ordered based on reviewer scores and passed on to the Chief Technology Officer and Secretary for final selection. The Secretary makes all final project selections.

Following the selection of the HHS Entrepreneur projects, the Department solicits applications for the External Entrepreneur positions. All applicatns are reviewed by a panel of the Innovation Council, but Internal Entrepreneurs make the final selection of which External Entrepreneur is the best fit for their project.


How to Apply

Proposals for HHS Entrepreneurs support are submitted through the HHS Intranet at apply-idealab.hhs.gov/entrepreneurs/.

When is the next cohort of HHS Entrepreneurs?

Cohort 2 of HHS Entrepreneurs is currently underway. Applications for Cohort 3 project submissions are open from February 18-March 28, 2014. Applications for External Entrepreneurs for Cohort 3 will be open in the Spring/Summer of 2014 with the kick-off occurring in September 2014.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. How are Internal Entrepreneurs compensated?

    Internal Entrepreneurs will continue to be paid under the same compensation structure prior to joining the HHS Entrepreneurs Program.

  2. How are External Entrepreneurs compensated?

    It is up to the participating Operating / Staff Division to determine the compensation for the External Entrepreneurs. External Entrepreneurs will be brought in as Term Appointments and will receive the same employee benefits as any other Federal employee: FEHB, FEGLI Programs, and Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS); Annual and sick leave.

  3. What is open innovation?

    Open innovation is a practice in which organizations use external as well as internal ideas to advance technologies, products or business. The concept of open innovation assumes that knowledge is widely distributed and that organizations should actively seek the best ideas or solutions, regardless of where they originate.

  4. What is agile development?

    Agile involves iterative and incremental development completed by self-organizing teams. Agile methodologies emphasize individuals and interactions over processes and tools, developing working software over comprehensive documentation, emphasizing customer collaboration over contract negotiation, and responding to change over following a set plan.

    Agile is most commonly used in software development, but can also be used for other types of projects.

  5. What are lean startup techniques, and why are they valuable / applicable to HHS?

    Startup organizations have demonstrated that rapid iteration between various versions / features of a product can yield successful results. In contrast to traditional methods for developing products and/or solutions, which involve an extended design phase, “lean startup” techniques focus on providing prototypes to consumers/users as quickly as possible. Rapid prototype release allows for quick and iterative refinements to product/solutions based on real-life feedback. Therefore, the “lean startup” process creates valuable products and/or solutions quickly while minimizing waste (time, effort/or and money) in the development cycle.

  6. How have rapid iteration and “lean startup” techniques been used at HHS in the past?

    One example of the use of rapid iteration at HHS is the development of the healthcare.gov website, which provides a tool for consumers to find public and private insurance options online.

    Using rapid and iterative prototype testing, the healthcare.gov website was launched in 90 days. Another element that was critical to the success of this effort was to build an interdisciplinary team of internal and external experts to work on the project, including: top HHS web designers, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services staff with extensive knowledge of Medicare coverage with an external expert with experience using “lean startup” techniques in the private sector.

  7. What is design thinking?

    Design thinking is a methodology for practical, creative resolution of problems or issues that looks for an improved future result. In this regard it is a form of solution-based or solution-focused thinking that starts with the goal or what is meant to be achieved instead of starting with a certain problem. Then, by focusing on the present and the future, the parameters of the problem and the resolutions are explored, simultaneously. This type of thinking most often happens in the built environment, also referred to as the artificial environment (as in artifacts).

  8. How many positions are available?

    For each cohort, the Department will select up to 20 Internal Entrepreneurs (resulting in 4 – 6 projects) and up to 6 – 8 External Entrepreneurs, depending on the need.

  9. What happens if I am selected?

    Internal Entrepreneurs have been notified and selected to participate in the second cohort. More information on who the Internal Entrepreneurs can be found under the “Who” tab.

    The External Entrepreneur application process has recently closed and applicants will be notified in August/September 2013 and can be expected to start as early as September/October 2013.

  10. Do External Entrepreneurs have to relocate?

    In order to maximize the effectiveness of the project, we recommend that External Entrepreneurs relocate to the project site for the duration of the program.

Entrepreneurs Projects

Below is the HHS Entrepreneurs Project Gallery. Each project is associated with one of our Pathways which is denoted with a Pathway logo (HHS Entrepreneurs Logo, Entrepreneurs Icon). To read more about each project click on the beaker icon (beaker icon) under the project title.

  • All
  • Cohort 1
  • Cohort 2
Accelerating Clinical Quality Measures Project
Accelerating Clinical Quality Measures for the Affordable Care Act
Entrepreneurs Icon Beaker: Accelerating Clinical Quality Measures for the Affordable Care Act
Application of Design Thinking Project
Application of Design Thinking to Grants
Entrepreneurs Icon Beaker: Application of Design Thinking to Grants
Health Resilience Technology Project
Building Health Resilience Technology to Withstand Natural Disasters
Entrepreneurs Icon Beaker: Building Health Resilience Technology to Withstand Natural Disasters
Cloud-Based GIS Maps Displaying Aggregate Data on Medical Malpractice
Cloud-Based GIS Maps Displaying Aggregate Data on Medical Malpractice
Entrepreneurs Icon Beaker: Cloud-Based GIS Maps Displaying Aggregate Data on Medical Malpractice
Designing the infrastructure for Medicaid and CHIP Eligibility
Designing the Infrastructure for Medicaid & CHIP Eligibility
Entrepreneurs Icon Beaker: Designing the Infrastructure for Medicaid & CHIP Eligibility
Electronic Tracking & Transport of the Nation's Organ Transplant System
Electronic Tracking & Transport of the Nation’s Organ Transplant System
Entrepreneurs Icon Beaker: Electronic Tracking & Transport of the Nation’s Organ Transplant System
Health Information Exchange Accelerators
Health Information Exchange Accelerators
Entrepreneurs Icon Beaker: Health Information Exchange Accelerators
Modernizing the National Plan and Provider Enumeration
Modernizing the National Plan and Provider Enumeration System
Entrepreneurs Icon Beaker: Modernizing the National Plan and Provider Enumeration System
Publication Planning & Clearance Process Improvement Project
Publication Planning & Clearance Process Improvement Project
Entrepreneurs Icon Beaker: Publication Planning & Clearance Process Improvement Project

A federal government Website managed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, S.W. - Washington, D.C. 20201